We saw marvelous things on our 70 mile ride from Joliet to Pontiac. (Email subscribers, the day’s distance and destination are updated daily at rideforhumanrights.com .) Egrets and hawks. Planted fields that filled the square-mile sections between roads. Miles of crushed-stone trails and a lock along the Illinois Michigan Canal. Tractors and wind turbines. A long, fast freight train. A barge on the Illinois River. Our first real Illinois hill (we reached 28 mph on the descent).
Confused by his magnetic compass, the winding Illinois River, and a GPS that kept telling us to “make a U turn” after we had made a U turn already, Jeffrey pedaled us 8 miles out of our way. But this cloud (on an otherwise sunny day) has a silver lining.
As we left the motel in Joliet this morning, a senior citizen in a Cadillac with Illinois plates asked about our destination. Jeffrey mentioned refugee rights, and said that whatever one may think about general immigration, the Bible and U.S. law agree that refugees should have the right to make their cases with a lawyer’s advice. The man abruptly wished us a good ride and clammed up. Uh-oh. Was this a Trump supporter? That would be a downer.
The first silver lining in our wrong-turn cloud was Louis, a retired machinist who had come from Chicago to fish in the IM Canal for catfish and crappies.
Louis didn’t have much to say about refugees. He is a kind man, though, and doesn’t begrudge anyone a safe life. Louis and Jeffrey had a friendly conversation too rich to detail here.
Then we met Jesús and Laura, and their children Carlos and Gloria, on their way to catch silver bass in the canal. What a lovely family.
Laura works hard as a homemaker. Jesús, who comes from a dangerous part of Mexico, works in a small manufacturing business in Chicago. He isn’t worried about the presidential campaign’s anti-immigrant talk; he says it’s just “blah-blah-blah.” We hope he’s right.
Then we met Diamond, who hadn’t caught any fish. She studies physical therapy at Ball State and intends to earn a doctorate in the field.
Jeffrey explained the work done by Human Rights First. Diamond agreed that it’s unfair to expect putative refugees to navigate the legal system without a lawyer’s help.
These fine people washed away the poisonous vibe we picked up from that first morning encounter.
Then, in the pretty town of Dwight, we saw a new-looking battle flag of the so-called Confederacy, flying next to the Stars and Stripes. According to flag etiquette, the bloody traitors’ flag has pride of place on its own right.
We saw such traitors’ flags in the South in 2013, and a few in rural Michigan in 2014. It’s the first we’ve seen in Illinois, and the first on what seems to be a nice private dwelling (not a trailer or a shack). Why does someone think it’s OK to display the slaveowners’ banner? Has GOP rhetoric unleashed the id?
Then we had more antidotes.
On long, flat, straight Old Route 66 . . .
. . . with a slight tailwind, we pedaled as fast as 20 mph. Jeffrey stopped at a gas station in Odell for lemonade and met Mr. Campbell . . .
. . . who told Jeffrey about caring for Mother Campbell in Kankakee, and about his work in support of a hospice, and about his tricycle-loving friend Stephen. After Jeffrey talked about our mission and about Human Rights First, Mr. Campbell kindly offered Jeffrey some homemade gourmet food to sustain him along the way.
Then Jeffrey met friendly Justin, a family man. They didn’t talk about refugees.
They talked 2- and 3-wheeled road machinery, pedaled and powered.
These encounters restored our faith in humanity after the rebel-flag downer.
Ground-controller Nancy found us a motel room in Pontiac.
As she did last night, Nancy primed the staff to be ready for us. Selena’s warm welcome was yet another antidote to the day’s irritations.
People are good to us on the Rides. This year there have been no horn blasts, no close encounters with motor vehicles. Drivers hang back, pass us when it’s safe, and have been nothing but friendly. It’s human nature, and kangaroo puppet nature too, to focus on the irritants. But the weight of the evidence backs that old saw: a stranger is a friend you haven’t met.